Friday, September 01, 2017

Partisanship, Propaganda and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Echidne's Take.

The Harvard study, called  Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election has now produced its final report, and you can download it at this link.

All the 140 pages are worth reading, and I have done so.  When I finished, I lay my aching head on my desk and attended to some creative swearing.  The findings are that bad.

Here's the abstract of the study.  I have bolded the most crucial findings, but, honestly, the whole report deserves reading:

In this study, we analyze both mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election. We document that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Donald Trump’s agenda: when reporting on Hillary Clinton, coverage primarily focused on the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation and emails. When focused on Trump, major substantive issues, primarily immigration, were prominent. Indeed, immigration emerged as a central issue in the campaign and served as a defining issue for the Trump campaign.

We find that the structure and composition of media on the right and left are quite different. The leading media on the right and left are rooted in different traditions and journalistic practices. On the conservative side, more attention was paid to pro-Trump, highly partisan media outlets. On the liberal side, by contrast, the center of gravity was made up largely of long-standing media organizations steeped in the traditions and practices of objective journalism.

Our data supports lines of research on polarization in American politics that focus on the asymmetric patterns between the left and the right, rather than studies that see polarization as a general historical phenomenon, driven by technology or other mechanisms that apply across the partisan divide.

The analysis includes the evaluation and mapping of the media landscape from several perspectives and is based on large-scale data collection of media stories published on the web and shared on Twitter.

In ordinary language, with a few additions from my reading of the study, these are the findings worth thinking about:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

When Religious Patriarchs Speak On Sexuality And Gender. The Case of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood* is a group of Evangelical leaders who tell their flocks that the gender roles which prevailed two thousand years ago in nomadic tribal cultures are eternal and decreed by a divine power.

The Council expressed its sour views on gender equality in 1987 in the Danvers Statement, which explicitly states that husbands are the bosses of their wives at home and that men are the heads in the covenant community.  Thus, an eternal and unchanging hierarchy exists, and any attempt to disrupt it is seen as terrible.

Feminism was especially singled out as one rational for the Danvers Statement:

the increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives;
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has obnoxious opinions which are also advocated by Wahhabists in Islam and by the most orthodox strains of Judaism.  The gist of all those is that gender hierarchies are eternal.

Just to make all that absolutely clear, the same Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has come up with the Nashville Statement which tries to fill in all the gaps in that argument, to keep the hierarchy very clear (and to cause even more suffering, of course):

“The Nashville Statement” was written as a follow-up to that statement [the 1987 one], in response to what the group sees as a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and transgender rights. The council’s co-founder, John Piper, who is also a Baptist pastor, wrote that the statement addresses the “destructive consequences” of this modern inclusive culture.
I don't see the "destructive consequences" in the statement itself, but I've learned that when conservative patriarchs talk about such destruction, they really mean that someone is gnawing off the rungs of the ladder they have successfully climbed, and they fear falling down.

That so many religious groups advocate permanent gender hierarchies makes the criticism of such beliefs imperative for anyone who doesn't wish to emulate the cultural gender norms which prevailed two thousand years ago.

But progressives, in general, should pay attention to these arguments, too,  because if women are supposed to be subjugated to their husbands*, how can they exert independent power in the labor market?  If a husband has the veto power over everything his wife does, why would anyone trust her word?  And if he can decide when she should withdraw from the labor force, how should employers choose between married women and married men in promotion decisions?  Could we ever have a female president?  And who decides how the income is shared inside families?  Who gets to allocate any government transfer payments inside families?  Whose career needs will be prioritized?

Most Americans do not believe in the Biblical Big Guys' interpretations of their holy texts.  Note, however, that the more "religious rights" are pushed by the Trump administration, the closer we come to these opinions playing a much larger role in the labor market, education and politics.


*  Specifically, the Council advocates complementarianism:  the view that men are created for one thing and that women are created for another thing, and that when we add the two slices together they create the totality of everything that is.

The problems with that view are many.  Not only are the views in the Bible based on exceedingly ancient gender norms, women and men are not each others' complements in a vast majority of fields of operation and in general  women and men are more alike than they are different.

The approach also supports male headship without any real controls on that (to rule out violence as a way to exert dominance, say) or without any need to demonstrate leadership skills or concerns for those one leads, and the approach doesn't care if in at least some families the wives would actually be more competent leaders than their husbands.

But the deepest problem with that whole approach is the concept of complementarianism when deprived of any concerns for equality.  If I bake a giant chocolate cake, eat almost all of it and give you the crumbs left on the plate, our food intakes were complementary in the sense that we ate the whole cake.  Thus, complementarianism hides inequality and the possibility that the good bits are given to one side in these divine deals.

**  In the ideal fundie world that's how marriage would look like.  There would be no same-sex marriage, no egalitarian marriages, no real choice not to marry at all and still have sex. 


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Trump Shuts Down An Obama-Era Rule On Pay Tracking By Gender, Race and Ethnicity. Fun!

Another little present from our Dear Leader.  This is a real doozy:

The White House will shut down an Obama-era rule that would have required businesses to track how much they pay workers of varying genders, races and ethnicities according to a new report.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Trump officials will stay the rule, which would have gone into effect in the spring, because it created a burden for employers.
“It’s enormously burdensome,” Neomi Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told The Journal. “We don’t believe it would actually help us gather information about wage and employment discrimination.”

The rule would have applied to firms with at least 100 employees.

I adore that last paragraph which I bolded: 

It's enormously burdensome to collect the only kind of data which actually can reveal if a firm discriminates against, say, its female employees in pay!  It's so burdensome that to think about that burden makes me feel as if I'm wearing giant mill-stones as earrings and my earlobes are sweeping the floor below this one!  It's exhausting!

There's no way a worker at that firm could just go to the computer and create a few cross-tabulations of the firm's pay data.  No way.  It's tiring to just think about it.  I need to lie down now.

I hope you got the point.  Getting that data is not at all burdensome.

Then the next bit in that last paragraph:  The administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs doesn't believe that data on pay by sex and race and ethnicity would help in gathering information about labor market discrimination!  

It's probably better to use astrology as the basis of such studies, or we could always simply ask the CEOs of such firms if they discriminate against certain groups of employees.  Yes, that would work!  Those CEOs have no incentive to lie, after all, no reason why they would like to keep their total labor bill as low as possible by paying less to certain employee groups.  And of course real bigots would tell us the truth and smile broadly, revealing their vampire fangs.

Enough, goofy goddess.  More realistically, it's true that such data cannot prove or disprove discrimination, but its absence means that discrimination cannot be proved at all!

Have you noticed, by the way, how the fact that some chore might be a burden is always used in this manner by the Republican Party?  Environmental regulations are a real burden for firms so let's scrap them and trust that future generations evolve into some sort of amphibians which do not need air and so on.  Any kind of labor market fairness is awfully burdensome, too, and it's so much better to assume that certain demographic groups just love to make a little pin money at work.

And Now, Something Completely Different. Fake Simon And Fake Garfunkel Singing About Trump

This is a fun way* to start the day.

Something more chewy will be served later.
*  Link via Modemocrat.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Harvey As A Metaphor

While following the terrible events in Houston and elsewhere, it occurred to me that this particular hurricane, with its unprecedented and hard-to-forecast behavior and the enormous losses it's causing is also a good metaphor for what has happened to American politics in the age of Trump.

We no longer know which rules apply, we cannot use old prediction models, we are not properly prepared for the damage we are going to suffer, and the levees are breaking.

Those levees are the basic rules of democracy, however flawed, and Trump simply doesn't respect any of them.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Trump's Latest Friday News Dump

Was intended to give the pardoning of Sheriff Arpaio as little coverage as possible in the mainstream media, given that hurricane Harvey was clearly the most important news to cover.  Trump's message would still reach the right people among his Breitbart (white supremacist) base, because they may more attention to Trump's tweets and dog whistles.

Just to remind all of you, what Trump did in pardoning Arpaio was this:

While he is not the first official whose offense involved abuse of public powers—from Nixon on down, others fit that category—his is the first case I’m aware of where someone is pardoned for using state power toward racist ends.

Phoenix New Times provides us a list of the deeds of Sheriff Arpaio.  It's not pleasant reading.

The catastrophe in Texas works nicely to reduce the publicity Arpaio's pardoning would otherwise receive.

Another possibility is that the timing of his pardon was planned to appease that Breitbart base for the simultaneous news that Sebastian Gorka, one of the white supremacist guys in the Trump administration, was let go.

Or Trump might be signaling to his co-conspirators that he will pardon them, so there's no need to make deals in the Mueller investigation etc.

Now I'm firmly in the world where hats are made of tinfoil and conspiracies sprout up everywhere.

Women's Equality Day, 8/28/17. What To Read, A Little Late.

Women's Equality Day was last Saturday, August 28th.  And no, its not a special day set up for 24 hours of gender equality, to be set aside for the rest of the year.

I was busy with my Giant Cucumber Plants and missed the date.  But not to worry!  Here are a few things worth reading on issues relating to gender equality*:

-  Tressie McMillan Cottom  wrote in July about the stolen childhoods of black girls, their stolen innocence and our lack of care for them as children.  I strongly recommend that piece which came out when I was mostly offline.

-  Jill Filipovic writes about the Catch-22, familiar to so many women, which Hillary Clinton faced when Donald Trump decided to stalk her on the debate floor, in front of millions of eyes.  Should she ignore him?  Should she kick him in the fork?  Should she yell at him call him a creep?

She picked the first alternative and ignored him.  But now she is criticized for it.  Filipovic notes that no option available for women in such circumstances is ever quite correct:

When women complain about being harassed on the street, we are admonished to simply talk back to our harassers. When we are beaten up or killed for talking back, people wonder why we provoked our assailants. When we are harassed or assaulted by someone in the public eye, we are presumed to be merely seeking publicity if we come forward. If we decide to speak out only when other women have done so first, then we must be lying, because why didn’t we mention this earlier?
This is familiar to many of us.  Its roots may be in our unconscious assumption that women are ultimately somehow responsible for the harassment they receive, even when that clearly is not the case (such as when Donald Trump breathed down Hillary Clinton's neck).**

-  The UK Guardian writes about a show which is based on "locker-room banter." The cast consists of four women who repeat the tales of men interviewed by the playwright Gary McNair.  It's hard to say whether the stories selected for the show are a random sample or the most extreme ones, but here's an example for you:

“The best thing that comes out of a woman’s mouth is your knob, I would say, aye.” “They’re only good for being in the kitchen … make my dinner then give me my hole, and then go to your bed.” 
Is this locker-room banter?  Just a joke?

If so, Trump's pussy-grabbing boasts might indeed be fairly mild examples of something much more hateful:  a culture of misogyny  —  I fervently hope that men with these opinions are a tiny minority.


*  All my examples come from fairly privileged places.  Women's lives are much more unequal in the rest of the world and truly dismal in certain countries such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.  Important work remains to be done.

**  Thus, we keep mulling over what Hillary should have done, in response to what Donald did.  We do not keep mulling over why Donald chose to stalk her around the stage in a public debate.  He has been given a weird kind of pass.

 In a related article, Paul Waldman asks if Hillary Clinton has abased herself adequately or not for her loss, and suggests that our thirst for this is at least partly based on the fact that she is a woman:

So again, why were other presidential losers never told to voluntarily submit themselves to a ritual humiliation? I can’t prove to you empirically that sexism is the reason that demand is only made of Clinton, but previous candidates didn’t find their occasional post-election comments greeted with headlines like “Dear Hillary Clinton, please stop talking about 2016” or “Can Hillary Clinton please go quietly into the night?,” or “Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be writing a book — she should be drafting a long apology to America” (that last op-ed began with the line, “Hey, Hillary Clinton, shut the f— up and go away already”). Only Clinton is supposed to beg for forgiveness, absolve everyone else of any sins they committed in 2016, and whip herself until we’re good and satisfied that she has been punished enough

Sunday, August 27, 2017


I'm lighting a thousand candles for Texas.

Digby tells us how our Dear Leader is sternly focused on the catastrophe caused by hurricane Harvey.  Trump takes the opportunity to note that he has the very best people out to help, the greatest, in fact.

To see two catastrophes crash into each other is stunning.

May all in the way of Harvey be safe.  May help reach them soon.

How to send help.